audrey kim & alessandra diaz, new york
Written by Audrey Kim
When I heard of TASSEL at a church event in Seoul, I immediately knew that I wanted to be involved. I had not quite thought of the immense impact that the organization would have on my worldview in 2014, but its value of having a direct influence towards improving education in Cambodia resonated with me. I started teaching and even started a chapter in the town that I moved to in New York, where I met my co-editor in chief, Alessandra Diaz. However, it wasn't until I went to Cambodia that I truly understood TASSEL's message.
I went to Cambodia two times with TASSEL, serving for ten days the first trip, and about a month the second time around. Interviewing families and teaching in Cambodia for about a month in the summer of 2016, Alessandra and I realized the deeper impact of compassion on a community. It has the capacity to change people who have previously been closed off to the world, which was evident when we, the editors, talked to the community members and students that TASSEL serves. I won't forget the smile on a grandmother's face as Joji promised to come back with a bag of rice, or a little girl who started crying as her aunts rehashed the story about how her mother abandoned her out of resentment. The food, medical supplies, and English education are indeed a vital part of bringing tangible change to rural Cambodia, but the power of empathy is what TASSEL offers.
The fall of senior year coincided with the start of this website project, which created for a very busy few months. Alessandra had embarked on her gap year journey in rural India before attending Stanford University, so constant communication was not exactly possible either. I switched back and forth between college applications and website templates, along with the rest of my academic and extracurricular commitments. I can’t say it was easy, but my experiences during the summer pushed me onwards. Yes, there were some late nights, but I kept proofreading students' profiles and considering how much TASSEL meant to them. Bringing together the lives of volunteers, teachers, and students through the website was a unique privilege that I was able to enjoy, despite falling smack in the middle of the Dreaded Senior Fall. Delving into this project even helped motivate me to (finally) finish my college applications because I wanted to pursue my passions in development studies in a college that I was best suited for. As a part of Brown University’s Class of 2021, I hope to explore academic fields that will allow me to bring the type of social change and compassion to underserved communities as TASSEL has.
By founding the Bronxville chapter in 2015, I was able to spread TASSEL with my school peers. Through this project, however, Alessandra and I hope to help spread TASSEL’s message to anyone who encounters the website. My hope is that the stories of the volunteers, teachers, and villagers that you encounter will give you a clearer picture of TASSEL’s community that we had to witness in order to understand. Perhaps this understanding will encourage people to get involved with TASSEL and challenge existing volunteers become even further engaged in creating meaningful change in Cambodia. Ultimately, TASSEL is about the people that we serve, and how compassion has touched the lives of everyone involved.